Tips for reinventing your golden years
by Scott Page
When it comes to retirement concerns, it is tempting to suggest that the gay community behaves in the same manner as the rest of America, but such a suggestion would be incorrect. A Sage and Harris poll found that 51 percent of older LGBT people are concerned about having enough money to live on as they age, compared with 36 percent of non-LGBT people. In addition, LGBT seniors are more concerned about personal finances, physical decline and attractiveness, remaining independent, loneliness in older age, and support systems. The LGBT community is not only more concerned about retirement, but these concerns go deeper than finances and into the emotional aspects of aging into one's golden years.
I have studied retirement and longevity issues for many years, reviewing studies like the one mentioned above, speaking with clients who are dealing with such things firsthand and even seeking the counsel of my friend and the original Golden Girl, Betty White. What I have learned is that large swaths of Americans are ill-prepared for retirement; yet seniors and boomers (gay or straight) who make smart assessments and work on their emotional and financial plans can learn that it is never too late to have a fulfilling retirement.
Start with a reality check
As I learned with my own parents, a key starting point for re-energizing a retirement plan is to make an honest assessment of the situation and to realize that significant changes can make a difference. While traditional financial planners will tell you that the only options are to either save more or cut costs, other options exist. However, before that can start, you have to take a realistic look at your life and determine reasonable long-term goals. For some, this can be a major reality check. If you continue on with your current behavior of spending nearly as much as comes in, failing to save, or living in a home that's more than you need, then retirement may remain a pipedream. However, if you look at your life and make an appropriate and realistic financial plan, then you will be able make changes that will lead to a more secure financial future.
Life expectancy is a key building block
Before you can plan, you need to get a better understanding of how long you need to plan for. This requires addressing the always-uncomfortable topic of life expectancy. Again, from personal experience, I know that most people don't like to consider their mortality, but if you don't have an understanding of how long you will live, then it is impossible to prepare for the future. Because it has always bothered me that the financial planning profession just glosses over life expectancy, I created a special calculator to help assist seniors and boomers who need to pin down the length of time needed for their plans.
Right-size your life
While cutting costs enough to live an appropriate retirement may seem difficult, some big changes can be made which mainly involve downsizing. Many seniors and boomers continue to live in large homes (sometimes by themselves), have more than one car, live in an expensive part of the country, or even pay for the expenses of a vacation home. If you right size your life, you can definitely improve your retirement.
First, if your home has more than two bedrooms, then you probably have more space than you need, and it may be best to downsize and move to a less expensive part of town or even a new state. Taking full advantage of your living space is a tremendous cost saver. Why heat, cool, and clean extra rooms if you don't have to?
Next, if you are living alone, look for options whereby you can co-habitat with others. This not only saves money, but the social aspect of having other people around can do wonders for your happiness. There's a reason that the television show The Golden Girls was such a big success. Spending time with your friends and family is more fun and productive than living alone with a remote control and the Internet.
Lastly, when thinking about your future, it's also time to get rid of extra vehicles and other possessions – that riding mower that hasn't cranked in years and any other large assets that are just using up space. Sorry, but this means taking a hard look at everything you have accumulated over the years. Do you need all of that jewelry? Would that value be better off in your money market account? Are you holding on to a stamp collection or those gold coins you accumulated decades ago? Now's the time to reassess the value of your possessions.
Consider your encore career
If you are already retired or closing in on the date, it may be time to look at a new career that is a better match for your age, your needs, and your wants. Encore careers, such as working in a local shop, consulting, or turning a hobby into a small income source, can be incredibly rewarding and can help you make the transition from full-time worker to part-time retiree. And such encore careers are typically less stressful and more rewarding than the 21st century grind that is wearing down so many of us. You can make some money and perhaps earn some benefits, but mainly, you will be giving your life additional purpose while increasing your social network.
Tools of the trade for the new retirement
For help with planning for the future, including worksheets that can help you organize your thoughts and figure out how to right size your life, visit http://scottpage.com/free-retirement-tools/. A meaningful retirement is possible for everyone within both the gay and straight communities – we just have to rework our plans and make significant adjustments to our lives.
Scott Page is president and CEO of the Lifeline Program, a life insurance settlement provider in Atlanta. He is a recognized expert on retirement and financial issues facing seniors and baby boomers. He is the author of It's Never Too Late, Getting Older, Wiser, and Worry Free in Our Golden Years.